Where are all the disabled producers?

Clara Giraud, Assistant Producer for Unlimited, returns from a Producers’ Gathering, and continues to wonder why there are so few disabled producers…

I’ve just attended a 2-day Producers’ Gathering in Newcastle, organised by The Empty Space, bringing together performing arts producers from across the country.

As well as working for Unlimited, I’m also a freelance producer. I try and engage with the wider producer network as much as possible across the performing arts: theatre, live art, dance… Each area has their own networks and meetings which sometimes mix.  Endlessly, though, the vast majority of the people in these rooms are female, white, non-disabled, and from ‘comparatively wealthy’ backgrounds (and this includes me). Good for them (us). But not for the arts industry.

We keep on banging on about the need for more diversity in the arts, but we must acknowledge that the responsibility for finding the solutions for this must exist at every level of the sector, from the artist to the producer to the funder to the curator to the audience.

So, what barriers exist for disabled people to aspire to become arts producers, and what can we do about it?

The major issue which affects anyone starting off in the arts is financial: in order to secure paid work people are expected to have accumulated work experience, often through unpaid internships, which is near impossible without financial support.  This barrier becomes greater when access costs are involved, as one only qualifies for Access To Work funding from the government for paid work, and anyway, it seems to be getting increasingly difficult to get.

Another barrier might be the lack of understanding about what producers do. The vision of a hyper-confident person working 24/7 and on the phone might put off some people. The role can be so varied depending on the context, the job description is too blurry to really grasp unless you are already embedded within the arts. I tried to explain the role and job of a producer in a blog post a little while ago actually, which you can read here.

The general lack of understanding of access needs in small arts organisations, the narrow net thrown for hiring processes, and the ‘mystification’ of the skills set needed to work as a producer in the arts, all contribute to this issue too.

In all industries, role models play a key role in lighting the path for the next generation. We are in need of more producers to speak out as disabled people, if nothing else, to inspire young people to become leaders in the arts.  Who will be flag waving? Who will be offering leadership models that overcome access needs? This is one reason Unlimited has a series of PAID traineeships running alongside our programme (we’ve just recruited our new trainee so watch out for news soon). But beyond Unlimited, we’re calling to all our allies, and the wider arts industry, to really think about how they can help the next generation overcome existing barriers, and give them that support and that extra boost to ensure a diverse future in the arts.


Featured photo by Mairi Taylor, of Aidan Moesby’s Fragmenting the code (X)


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